Above all, justice must come first

Earlier this month, Ohio voters handed a lopsided victory to proponents of crime victims’ rights. More than 82 percent of those casting ballots in the Nov. 7 election said yes to Issue 1, the so-called Marsy’s Law.

Issue 1 reinforces a variety of rights for crime victims and their families. They are required to be informed of important events in their cases, including when defendants are released from jail or prison.

They must have some involvement in preparation of criminal cases and in the sentencing phase for those who are convicted.

But Issue 1, named for a California crime victim, had numerous critics. Their concern was simply that justice be done.

One provision of the newly adopted rules gives crime victims and their families some protection against harassment. They cannot be compelled to give unncessary depositions, for example.

A part of that section of the new law may run afoul of the U.S. Constitution, however. It stipulates that crime victims “can refuse discovery requests made by the accused …”

Discovery is a word lawyers and judges use in reference to uncovering the facts in a criminal case. Motions for discovery often are quite specific and indicate that defense attorneys are seeking information they believe may exonerate their clients.

Banning defense attorneys from obtaining information from crime victims could jeopardize fair trials.

That is unconstitutional, and with very good reason. Trials are not supposed to be stacked against anyone. They are intended to get at the facts, and Issue 1 may prevent that.

Prosecuting attorneys, police and judges now must abide by the new rules, to the best of their ability. Whether the limits on discovery will become a problem has yet to be seen — but it may well become a problem.

How should those who administer justice handle the concern now that Issue 1 is the law?

We do not pretend to have the expertise to answer that question, except with this: Justice, not convictions, should be the overriding concern of everyone in Ohio’s law enforcement and court systems.

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